Did you know gelato made from cashew nuts existed?
Until recently I didn’t either. In fact, if it weren’t for me going out of my way to find unique desserts in order to have material for my reviews, I probably would have never tried Organic Nectar’s Cashewtopia Chocolate Hazelnut gelato.
One of the reasons I had not been interested in this product is the packaging, magenta and black text against a plain white background, didn’t really appeal to me. This design could be said to succeed in the sense of differentiating the product line from competitors, but it feels too sterile to me, almost like a medicine bottle design.
My other issue with the package design is that there is just too much text. There is over 10 lines of text no the front, and the back is even worse, with a very long description of how healthy this product is for you. Reading this, we learn that this gelato is sweetened with coconut and agave syrups, made in-house by the same company which are also sold as separate products. It makes me happy to know they are using two natural sources of sweetness, and the fact the sweeteners are self-produced means they probably have greater control over their quality. But it also annoys me since they are not-so-subtly advertising their own products in both the long descriptive text and the ingredients list below.
The thing that got me thinking about the design of this product was the “org” abbreviation for “organic”, used several times on the label. As it was the first time I had seen this particular shortening, it took a few seconds to register, especially because the full word “Organic” is used elsewhere in the ingredient list (it so happens this is only for their self-made syrup and nectar). After thinking about it for some time I finally realized that the only reason they abbreviated to “org” is because they ran out of space with such a cluttered and over-verbose design.
I was able to get the needed information from the package, but I just wish they had conveyed it in a more elegant and minimalistic way.
To be honest, the flavor is very… lets just say different that what I was expecting. The hazelnuts scattered throughout are small and irregularly shaped, but they have a nice crunchy texture in the mouth. The problems is with the base itself, which has a strong sweetness that tastes somehow odd to me, and tastes quite unlike cashews. I’ve had a dessert which contained a high proportion of agave (Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss, Chocolate Hazelnut fudge), but in that product the sweetness was toned down. Here, its more in-your-face, and just tastes different. I’m not sure how to explain it – a effect caused by cashews, some difference in the plant or processing of the agave, or possibly some other minor ingredient.
It’s not that I hate the taste, just that its strange and hard to get accustomed to. Even the scent is very unusual and has some overtones not present in coconut, agave, or cashews.
Having said that, I’ve been able to eat over half a pint so far, and will likely finish it up in the next few days. The only question is will I buy this again, hoping to get used to it for the sake of the nutritional benefits, or stay with frozen desserts which are more my taste.
The marketing quip on the label is correct in that this gelato has (slightly) below-average calories, with 160 calories in a 85 gram serving. My mini database of ice cream figures has about 170 calories as an average figure for this serving size. Sugars is 16 grams which is also a bit below average, though the sugar is from two natural sources (coconuts and agave) so it may be healthier than some frozen desserts which use only table sugar.
Protein is suspiciously low at 2 grams per serving. Cashews apparently have 5 grams of protein per 28 grams worth of total weight, and from that you can infer there is a relatively small amount of cashews in this product (my calculations estimate 8-10%). Just because they are listed first doesn’t mean there is necessarily a huge amount of it present.
Nutritionally this product is great, with a wide array of natural sources, some of which are thought to have many beneficial health effects, such as coconut and cashews. There is no added sugars, no artificial flavors, and no artificial colors. For those trying to avoid certain foods, everything is dairy-free, egg-free, soy-free, gluten-free, vegan, and certified organic and kosher.
My only concern is the “org chocolate hazelnut flavor” ingredient, listed last. It seems to indicate something besides actual chocolate or hazelnuts, similar to the “natural flavors” category I despise. I had an exchange with an employee of Organic Nectars over email and was told the organic flavorings are only 0.025% of the total weight, “composed of NON-GMO carriers, as well as flavoring components comprised of one or more of the following: Natural extracts of plant origin, (from vegetables or fruits), Essential Oils (from vegetables, fruit or spice sources) and essences of plant origin (from fruit primarily).”
As with other companies, they won’t tell you what’s in their ‘secret sauce’, but its nice they have limited the possible components and the proportion used in the product. Honestly I don’t understand how anything present in such a small dose (0.025%) could have any effect on the taste, but I clearly have more research to do in this area so I can learn how these “natural flavors” are made and influence the overall taste.
Full ingredient list: raw org cashews, purified water, Organic Nectars AgaveLight (raw organic agave syrup), org hazelnuts, org gum acacia (nutritional acacia sap fiber), org agave inulin (nutritional prebiotic fiber), org raw cacao powder, Organic Nectars PalmSweet (organic evaporated coconut palm nectar), org virgin coconut oil, org safflower oil, org raw cacao butter, org guar gum (nutritional jaguar plant seed fiber), org arrowroot, pink crystal salt, org chocolate hazelnut flavor.
I bought this at Whole Foods for around $7.49, quite expensive for a pint. I understand premium/specialty products have justification to keep their prices high, but in the long run I feel this product only has a chance to succeed if they lower prices to a more reasonable level.
Ratings: Flavor: 5.0 Nutrition/Ingredients: 9.0 Price: 6.0 Overall: 6.7
This gelato is a Jekyll/Hyde to me – amazing nutritional potential but the weird sweetness that dominates the flavor is hard to ignore. I recommend waiting until the price drops to $5-$6 and then try it yourself, or one of the company’s other flavors.
I’ll continue in the same vein as my last review and report on another of my sweet favorites. This one is a spread, typically used to complement something like bread, a bagel, or a crepe, but its heavenly flavor is far from secondary – more like the main event.
Speaking of spreads – In my college days I was addicted to the well-known Nutella hazelnut spread. Several years later, after I had weaned myself away from that sugary goodness, I discovered Justin’s chocolate hazelnut butter. In many ways it was the healthier version of Nutella, so I decided to try it. I’ve never looked back since.
It’s a bit difficult to describe the taste for those who have never tasted a hazelnut butter before, but I’ll try my best. It has a deep nutty flavor, not unlike peanut butter, with subtle roasted overtones. In this spread, the hazelnuts strike a harmony against rich cocoa and the sublime sweetness of cane sugar. Compared with everyday peanut butter, it has a high-class ambiance to it, almost as if it was made for royalty.
Let me try to convey how yummy this stuff is in another way. Its addictive, very addictive. I’d feel a bit too guilty eating this straight out of the jar so I always spread it on something, usually bread. But bread itself can be quite filling, so I actually have caught myself more than once trying to eat a small dinner just to have that many more slices of bread in the evening, layered thick with “Justin”.
It’s aroma is nutty and buttery rather than chocolaty, as should be expected since there is a much higher proportion of nuts than cocoa.
After eating this product quite frequently for a year or so, my only gripe regarding flavor is that the texture is very inconsistent. Fortunately, there are simple solutions to get the best experience each time. When it’s overly oily, give a long, vigorous mix to balance out the oil more evenly. When its extra dry (as it was last time I bought it), mix in a few tablespoons of walnut oil. The flavor doesn’t change appreciably, but the increase in spreadability is well worth it, enabling better control over the amount used and less chance of tearing the bread.
Nutrition / Ingredients
As I alluded to in the introduction, this is an upgraded, healthier version of classic Nutella spread. That means a whole lot less sugar (approximately one third of Nutella’s), and much more hazelnuts.
One of my simple tests for healthiness is the number of ingredients. This passes easily, with only eight ingredients, and half of those are organic. Evaporated cane sugar, more natural and less processed, is used in place of commonplace refined white sugar. Add to that a touch of natural sea salt, produced by the evaporation of seawater. There are no vague terms such as “natural flavors”, and nothing artificial is used.
For a single serving (2 tablespoons), there are 180 calories and 7 grams of sugar. The problem with spreads is that its very hard to judge the amount being used, especially if applied with a knife (as opposed to a spoon which is no small feat). I’ve noticed if I’m not careful I can easily exceed a serving *per slice of bread*, and its no wonder once after a few weeks or eating a few of these slices a night I gained a few of pounds. The good news is if you can get yourself to spread thin you’ll healthier while still enjoying the rich, nutty flavor. You’ll taste more of the bread as well, or whatever you are spreading on.
For those who really want to count their calories, you can buy the single serving packs. I tried this a few times, but kept running into the problem of trying to squeeze out every last ounce, rather than enjoying my snack. More waste produced means this isn’t an environmentally friendly option either.
With the low amount of sugar, where do all the calories come from? Well, it turns out that nuts are extremely fatty. Having said that, If it came to a choice of calories from nuts as opposed processed like corn syrup, I’d pick the former. Hazelnuts also naturally pack a good amount of protein (4 g per serving here), which is a nice extra.
One minor nitpick is that sometime around 2012 they added a significant portion of almonds to their formula. Though I easily adjusted to the subtle change in flavor, the purist in me was frustrated by this recipe modification. I went so far as to send the company an email requesting why. Here is an unmodified excerpt of their polite response, which didn’t take too long to get back to me.
“We were getting a ton of feedback that it was just too hazelnutty. Since our chocolate spreads contain 70% nut and others contain only around 10% nuts, people just weren’t used to the robust hazelnut taste. We cut in almonds to round out the flavor.”
Odds are whatever base you choose to ornament with this spread, the sweet, nutty flavor will overpower it. This transforms mediocre breads, which would otherwise be left to go stale, into delicious desserts. But why not be health conscious and choose a quality bread with natural ingredients?
I recommend Whole Food’s “Prairie Bread” which has a diverse mix of nuts and seeds. It’s slightly stiff texture makes it ideal to help defend against tearing when using a bottle of “Justin” that happens to be a little low on oil. This combination is sweet enough to be called a desert, yet is much better nutritionally than most other sweets I eat.
Price and Availability
This spread can be found in places like Whole Foods, Target, as well as online for $8-$9. This price is undeniably hard on the wallet, but I’m apt to forgive considering hazelnuts are typically very expensive compared to other nuts.
I happened to pick up my last two jars at around $6 on sale in Whole Foods. Unfortunately that deep of a discount is quite rare.
A chocolaty nut butter whose addictive taste is offset by a high price tag and a minor problems with inconsistent oil content. Much healthier than some competing products, this product must be consumed in moderation to reap those benefits.